Oscar Valdez rallies past Robson Conceicao for hard-fought decision win
After all the controversy and talk about his positive drug test, Oscar Valdez finally put it out of his mind and got to work.
The result was hard-fought and competitive unanimous decision to retain his WBC junior lightweight title against Robson Conceicao in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ main event on Friday night before an announced sold-out crowd of 4,545 at the AVA Amphitheater at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona, where Valdez grew up and still views as a second home.
Conceicao fought well for most of the first half of the fight but Valdez took over in the second half and won 115-112, 115-112 and a surprisingly wide 117-110 to retain his 130-pound belt he was defending for the first time since taking it from Miguel Berchelt in a dominating upset that ended with a spectacular one-punch, left-hook knockout in the 10th round on Feb. 20 in Las Vegas. The Ring also had Valdez winning 115-112.
There was no crushing knockout for Valdez this time, rather a workmanlike victory over an opponent that spent much of the fight moving rather than engaging. But there was satisfaction for Valdez in avenging a significant amateur loss to Conceicao, who had beaten him 6-5 in the gold medal match of the 2009 Pan American Games in Mexico City.
Friday’s fight took place with huge controversy hanging over it because Valdez tested positive for the stimulant Phentermine in a random test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association on Aug. 13, with the result becoming public on Aug. 30.
However, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Athletic Commission, which regulates combat sports on Casino Del Sol’s tribal land, permitted the fight to move forward — and the WBC agreed to still sanction it. The reason was because the commission adheres to the code set by the World Anti-Doping Association, which allows the substance out of competition, meaning until one day before a competition. VADA, which was contracted to test for the fight but does not adjudicate test results, considers the substance banned at all times as it does not differentiate between an athlete being in competition or out of competition.
The issue sparked tremendous controversy with Valdez claiming that he did not knowingly take the substance. He attributed the trace amount found in his system to drinking contaminated herbal tea. He has been dogged by criticism over the test result since it was revealed and was relieved when the fight was over.
“I’ve been through a hard week,” Valdez said. “Sorry for all this ruckus.”
Early on it looked as though Valdez was going to be in for a long night, perhaps the drug test situation taking its toll as well as Conceicao’s movement and jab.
Conceicao took control at the outset and by the second round, Valdez’s face was already showing wear and reddening. But in the third round, Valdez, the much heavier hitter, hurt Conceicao with a heavy right hand on the temple. Conceicao shook it off and relied on movement and a steady jab to blunt Valdez’s aggressiveness.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) September 11, 2021
Finally, the tide began to turn. In the sixth round, Valdez began to find a more consistent home for his punches while Conceicao started to clown and pose. Late in the round, Valdez landed a left hook and then a nice overhand right at the bell that seemed to seal the round for him.
“It’s hard. Every fight’s hard,” Valdez said. “World class fights are hard, but you do what you got to do to win.”
With friend and fellow Eddy Reynoso-trained stablemate and pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez cheering him on at ringside, Valdez continued to stalk Conceicao in the seventh round. Conceicao looked like he was tiring but Valdez kept throwing, connected with several good shots and continually beat him to the punch.
Conceicao’s problems got worse in the ninth round when Valdez landed several good body shots and then referee Tony Zaino docked one from him for hitting Valdez behind the head, although the deduction seemed extremely aggressive. Conceicao was never warned and the shots seemed more like he was taps as he tried to escape a clinch rather than Conceicao seriously hitting him.
By the end of the 10th round, Valdez’s face was even more damaged and he was also cut under the left eye as he and Conceicao engaged in a few rough exchanges.
In the final round, Valdez scored with left hands to the body but Conceicao did not seem to have any urgency, even though he had lost a point in a otherwise close fight. All he mustered in the 12th round was a bit of showboating as he raised his hand in faux victory.
After the fight, former featherweight titlist Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs), 30, a 2008 and 2012 Mexican Olympian, took exception to Conceicao’s actions.
“I’m not a disrespectful man. He was disrespecting me, pointing at me and saying all this, man,” Valdez said. “I’ve been through enough. We won the fight. We do what we had to do and it’s on to the next chapter.
“He’s over here yelling in my face. We’re grown men. Don’t be yelling in my face. I understand you might be upset. Of course, you want to become a world champion. But don’t point at me. Don’t yell in my face. Don’t spit at me. I’ve been through enough this week, man.”
According to CompuBox statistics, Valdez landed 83 of 390 punches (21 percent) and Conceicao connected with 141 of 576 (25 percent). However, Conceicao did most of his work in the first six rounds, when he landed double digits in five of those rounds. Over the last half of the fight, however, Conceicao only landed in double digits in two of the last six rounds while Valdez came on strong.
Still, Valdez had a hard time consistently finding Conceicao, who spent much of the fight on the move.
“It makes a fight complicated when somebody’s trying to run the whole fight,” Valdez said. “I’m trying to put on a good show for my fans, give the fans what they want, which is a good fight. But you can’t win a fight running like that. I’m sorry I didn’t give you guys a knockout or a great fight. I wish I could have given it to you but it’s hard to hit someone when they’re running the whole time.”
Conceicao (16-1, 8 KOs), 32, a three-time Olympian from Brazil and a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, brushed off the criticism of his constant movement and said he should have had his hand raised in victory.
“This is boxing. I cannot go with his game. I played my game,” Conceicao said through an interpreter. “Look at his face and look at my face. I have nothing on my face. Oscar’s is all fu—- up. I won this fight.”
With Valdez having retained his belt and avenged the amateur loss, he hopes his next fight is a big one to unify titles.
“Hopefully, we can come back here again with another great fighter, the one we all want. You guys know who he is,” Valdez told the crowd.
Asked who meant, Valdez said the same thing he said throughout the buildup to the fight.
“We all want the winner of Shakur Stevenson and Jamel Herring. Let’s do it,” Valdez said.
Herring (23-2, 11 KOs), 35, a Coram, New York, native, is scheduled to defend his WBO title for the fourth time when he squares off with interim titlist Shakur Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs), 24, of Newark, New Jersey, in a mandatory bout on Oct. 23 in Atlanta in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN main event.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has said repeatedly he wanted to make that fight if Valdez defeated Conceicao and he has not changed his tune.
“If the fighters want the fight, I have no problem putting Oscar in with the winner of Jamel Herring and Shakur Stevenson,” Arum said after Friday’s fight.
Valdez said he will be back in the gym after taking a week off and then will await the outcome of Herring-Stevenson.
“They’re great fighters, they’re great champions,” Valdez said. “The best have to fight the best. Let the best man win that night.”